Criss-crossing European frontiers along a historic converted railway.
The Vennbahn bike path, was internationally awarded on several occasions and is one of the longest rail bike paths in Europe, leading through three countries: Germany, Belgium, and Luxembourg. The path stretches from Aachen, straight through East Belgium, to Troisvierges, offering 125 km of fascinating landscapes, border country atmosphere, history, and stories of the Vennbahn.
The heart of the Vennbahn lies in a centennial story of the taming of a geologically difficult terrain. The line re-drew national borders, crossing and re-crossing frontiers to finally transcend them. Originally the rail had to conquer the landscape, nowadays our visitors take part in their own journeys to rediscover that landscape for a different purpose and see it through different eyes.
For over a hundred years, the Vennbahn was the iron link between the coalfields of Aachen and the north of Luxembourg. But this former supply line also brought wealth and progress to this unique natural and cultural living space in the heart of Europe along the German-Belgian frontier. The Vennbahn has successfully survived a turbulent and treacherous period of history, one that sometimes reserved it a vital role.
Today the points are set for a new era. Gleaming steel rails and creosote-darkened sleepers have made way for relaxed cycle touring and hiking all along this green-flanked track. Experience 125 kilometres on the trail of Vennbahn stories, the many anecdotes and curiosities of this charming region that are ready to enhance your journey.
There is not much left to remind one of the quantities of freight that once rolled up and down the Vennbahn between Aachen and the north of the Grand Duchy. A handful of deserted station buildings, as in Raeren, Walheim or Sourbrodt, the occasional rusting wagon, coach or locomotive, a few signals, frozen in time … these silent witnesses are all that remain of a glorious past. Some of the former stations house exhibits and relics that give insights into the history and lore of the Vennbahn. The era in which the Vennbahn was the pulsing artery of industrial development and trade between the coal fields of Aachen and the smelters of Lorraine and Luxembourg is long past. This turbulent history began under Prussian rule, when Kaiser Wilhelm I. laid the cornerstone for the start of construction in 1882. By 1889 the Vennbahn line between Aachen-Rothe-Erde and Ulflingen (today’s Troisvierges) could begin to carry traffic. The Vennbahn was a successful operation well into the 1920s, gradually losing importance as its incapacity for higher speed travel became a disadvantage and customs regulations between Germany and Belgium began to negatively affect trade. Nevertheless, the last goods trains still rolled on into the 1980s, until the line was converted as a tourist attraction in the 1990s.
In 1990, after commercial rail traffic had been definitively discontinued at the end of the 80s, the German-speaking Community of Belgium (DG) purchased the section between Raeren and Bütgenbach to operate it as a passenger service tourist attraction. Unfortunately this venture soon proved financially unviable. Thus began a search for a new use and a feasible partnership, which eventually proved fruitful in Wallonia, where disused railways were already being converted into an ever more popular network of rapid cycle routes known as RAVeL. The plan for a German-Belgian frontier route was born, an idea which was greeted with enthusiasm by the local authorities and regional partners in both Germany and Luxembourg. A financial plan in the form of an inter-regional project was drawn up to share the burden.
The total investment currently stands at 14,540,914.83 €.